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Of tiny things ...August 18, 2012

You have read about all the big advantages and giant tools that are used onboard Chikyu for our exciting expedition. And indeed, they are breathtaking! They’re full of high-end technology and sophisticated engineering.

But on Chikyu, not only the big things are high-end technology. Also the little, tiny things require more advanced technology then you would ever imagine. Today, I will tell you about balancing (and not only because Libra is my zodiac sign).

During the last days, I spend hours by hours in weighing several hundreds of tiny glass vials that I will need later on for my experiments. Meanwhile, the balance and me, we became good friends.

You might now think “Uh, weighing... how boring...”, but let me tell you, a balance on a ship, that is high-end technology! Have you ever thought that balancing on a ship might be a tremendous challenge? You probably think, “What’s about? You step on the balance, wait until the pointer stops moving, you read the weight, and that’s it!” But what if the pointer does not stop? What if the ground and everything is in permanent movement? Like on a ship. Up and down, up and down. On the one moment your weight seems to be heavier and on the next it is much lighter. How can you measure a tiny weight with high precision under such circumstances?

The answer is as simple as highly sophisticated. You need two balances! And a good software that synchronizes them. On the one balance you put a “reference” weight, something of which you exactly now the weight. On the other balance you put the thing you want to measure. Next, you tell the software to start measurement, and the computer records the weight and all the periodic weight-changes produced by the movement of the ship for about one minute. By comparing the measurement signals of the two balances, the software eliminates the weight fluctuations. Once calculation is finished you get the weight presented on the screen with high accuracy and precision. That, I think, is a sophisticated solution to a problem that you probably not have suggest being one. And this is just one example out of many tiny things that are different on a ship than on shore and that require very special solutions.

The picture shows the two balances, located in a glass box to avoid disturbance of the measurement by air draught.
On the right side is the computer monitor and in front of the monitor you see some of my hundreds of glass vials ready for weighing.

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